I know I am in good hands when one of the first things co-founder Marcelino Ali says to me is, “Where I’m from, it’s all about hospitality.” So credit is in part owed to Batroun, a coastal city in Northern Lebanon, but the mood, atmosphere, and alchemy going on at Marcelino’s Boutique Bar are also the product of award-winning international mixologist Refaat Ghostine and co-founder Basil Badawi, whose vision is to create “a destination where one can relax…a sanctuary where one can be whoever [they] wish to be.”
The color palette is warm, accentuating exposed brick and brown leather. Edison bulbs glow in black and gold light fixtures, and rooms are separated by long curtains. Candles on each table hold the promise of perfect date night lighting.
I invite Ali to bring whatever he feels I should try, asking for half-portion cocktails to experience optimum variety. From a menu of drinks named after their essence, first up is Strawberry. Ketel One vodka infused with strawberries – with the fruit’s pulp dehydrated into a chewy “chip” that adorns the glass – and Mediterranean rosé are accentuated by a sprig of fresh thyme and a tapered glass that concentrates the herbal aroma.
Ali says, “I grew up watching my grandparents
make wine, arak, and syrups from scratch so I was inspired to incorporate earthy and aromatic flavors into my vision.” Spoiler: every drink he and childhood friend Ghostine have created is this thoughtful.
Mezze begins with a classic Lemon Infused Hummus garnished with paprika, oil, and fried chickpeas. The lemon isn’t overly acidic, and the oil adds a luscious fattiness to the finish. Black Truffled Hummus, the one I most wanted to try, is blended with black sesame tahini and topped with pine nuts and umami-forward mushrooms and truffle oil. Served with baked flatbread crisps that are flavorful but not overly seasoned, the hummus shines.
The second cocktail is Baklava. Spiced whiskey is fat-washed with butter and seasoned with honey, orange blossom, and vermouth. Sweet and slightly floral, this is a winner, even for a clear-spirit drinker. Next is from the summer menu: Watermelon. Celery gin, Aperol, and watermelon in crushed ice are light and refreshing after the rich whiskey, and a hint of absinthe feels naughty even if it’s not.
A trio of more hummus follows: Roasted Beet, Spicy Red Pepper, and Smoked Tahini Eggplant. Each starts with the same base, with the addition of a roasted vegetable. The vibrant rose-colored beet is my surprise favorite. Earthy and nutty with a green pistachio garnish, it’s as complex as it is beautiful. The Spicy Red Pepper hummus provides a serious kick, and the smoky eggplant of the third, Ali’s favorite, is balanced by the sharp pop of pomegranate arils and warm seasonings.
A fourth cocktail is Lavender Galangal, which can be described as “like drinking Cape Cod.” Herbal, without being soapy, and spicy thanks to ginger’s more floral cousin, this fizzy concoction again showcases Ghostine’s deft hand.
At this point I wrongly assume we are done just as two loaded flatbreads arrive: Armenian with pastrami, creamy cheese, arugula, and balsamic, and Spinach, topped with sumac, labneh, and pomegranate. Both are generously loaded, delicately charred, and offer a marriage of sweet and savory.
Summer Cup finishes off the evening on a fruity note. A riff on a popular British classic, Pims is paired with fresh juices and ginger ale. We do our best to finish the abundant summer mezze, knowing it will change with the seasons and knowing we will be back. The check arrives, as stylishly as the dishes, in a dark and moody mini-chest accompanied by a farewell shot in its own ice-filled crate: A delicious little off-menu secret I see at other tables. It’s all about hospitality, after all.